By Gabriel Omonhinmin
Concerned Itsekiri chiefs are working round the clock to resolve the crisis and the high level intrigues that have arisen after the Iyatsere of Warri Kingdom, Chief Johnson Amastsenrunereleghe, announced the passage of His Royal Majesty, Ogiame Ikenwoli and the selection of Prince Utieyinoristsetsola Emiko as the new Olu-designate.
Emiko was announced as the incoming Olu on April 5, 2021 in Ode-Itsekiri, the ethnic nationality’s ancestral homeland.
A reliable source and member of the Warri Council of Chiefs, who spoke with Palace Watch in strict confidence, said he “can now authoritatively disclose that the unfortunate crisis bedeviling the ancient kingdom of Warri is not abating as expected.
Instead, the crisis is likely to snowball into a major breakdown of law and order, if not properly handled by the Nigerian Police and the Delta State government in an effort to nip the brewing crisis in the bud.”
He stressed that “sadly, this crisis is mainly between two warring factions of chiefs in the Warri Kingdom. The leader of one of the factions is a chief, who has betrayed virtually every one, in his desperate attempt to take over the running of the palace affairs, after the sudden demise of the Olu of Warri.”
He continued. “As the crisis rages, the question being asked by a faction of the chiefs in Warri Kingdom, alongside the eldest son of the immediate past Olu of Warri, Prince Oyowoli Emiko, is, ‘who killed His Royal Majesty, Ogiame Ikenwoli? Was the king’s death a natural one or was he murdered? ’
These and many more questions are currently begging for answers. There is palpable suspicion in the whole of Warri Kingdom that the king did not die a natural death at 62 years of age.
The source for the concerned chiefs and the late Olu’s son argued “that His Royal Majesty Ikonwoli was not sick and was actively involved in all the activities that heralded his fifth anniversary on the throne.
During the anniversary celebrations proper, he was also very active. What therefore, led to his sudden death?
They explained further: “On Thursday, 8th of December, 2020, few days before the celebration of his fifth anniversary, the Olu was in Ode-Itsekiri, the ancestral home of the Itsekiri people, where he personally performed all the traditional rites expected of him as a sitting Olu, in accordance with the Itsekiri customs and traditions.
“On the 12th of December, 2020 on the day of the celebration proper, the Olu without showing any sign of ill-health or fatigue, participated in all the activities and celebrations to mark his fifth year of ascension to the throne in Warri.
On 13th December, 2020, after the ceremony, His Royal Majesty, Ogiame Ikenwoli, was in Church for a thanksgiving service and was still very fit.
“It was therefore a rude shock and surprise to most people especially chiefs in Warri Kingdom, when the news came, that a king, who was well, hearty and up and doing, seven days after the ceremonies suddenly fell sick and was rushed on the night of 20th December, 2020 to Lily Hospital, Deco Road, Warri, a private hospital, where he died.
No right-thinking person they say, would accept that a king that showed no sign of ill-health, suddenly fell sick and died without any proper explanation by his caregivers and handlers.
Hence the suspicion that Ogiame Ikenwoli was poisioned, and that the matter needed to be properly investigated by the Nigerian Police.”
Under normal circumstances, some of the chiefs explained, the people who were with the king, who interacted with the king late that night when he suddenly fell sick and died, needed to give the Warri people some explanations.
They lamented: “Unfortunately, since the announcement of the new Olu-designate, and the crisis arising from the announcement, most people especially the Itsekiri nation seem not to be interested in the way and manner, Olu Ikenwoli died any longer.
“If this heinous crime is allowed to be swept under the carpet, it will be very difficult to guarantee the safety of forthcoming Olus of Warri. We are therefore, shocked that people, who are supposed to be talking are no longer doing so, or willing to find out what happened to the immediate past Olu of Warri. This is however, giving some of us chiefs some concern.
Again, due to the uncertain nature and circumstances surrounding the passage of His Royal Majesty, Ogiame Ikonwoli, which his eldest son wanted to unravel at all costs, it was no surprise, that the young Prince, who suspected foul play, gave some of the chiefs a cold shoulder and refused to entertain them when they approached him, upon his arrival in Warri from London after the demise of his father. Expectedly, some of the thiefs took offence at the young prince’s behavior and decided to work against him becoming the next Olu.
They stressed: “Except we all choose to pretend not to know what is happening, the rumours and allegations flying around Itsekiri Kingdom, is that His Royal Majesty, Ogiame Ikenwoli, was poisoned by yet-to-be-identified persons.
But, due to the fact that our tradition would not allow the remains of an Olu to be tampered with, an autopsy would have been ordered to ascertain the actual cause of his death. This might never happen because of our custom and tradition.”
To further buttress these claims that the immediate past Olu did not die a natural death, a prominent Warri chief, Mrs. Rita Lori-Ogbebor, who is the Igba of the kingdom, through her lawyer, Raphael Oyewole and Associates, wrote a petition dated 20th January, 2021 to the Area Commander of the Nigerian Police Force in Warri, a copy of which was copied to the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice in Abuja, Mr. Abubakar Malami, SAN.
The petition, entitled “Re: Conspiracy, Accessory After The Fact Of Acceleration Of The Death of A Person, Negligent Act and Omission Causing Harm Resulting in the Death of a Person, Conduct likely to breach public peace; contrary to the provisions of section 7, 311, and 344 of the criminal code act, laws of the Federal Republic of Nigeria; was against three top Itsekiri palace players (names withheld) “and their cohorts.”
The petitioner is asking among other requests that the matter be thoroughly investigated, the circumstances surrounding the passage of the immediate past Olu of Warri should also be carefully looked into as this is the only way to assuage the feelings of the Warri people, who are presently aggrieved.
Chief Lori-Ogbebor asked that the officials of Lily Hospital, where the Olu of Warri died should be summoned to give evidence about what they know about his death. She asked that all the suspects should be restrained from further acts that might ignite the anger of the people and breach the peace and tranquility of the Warri Kingdom.
Also in the petition, the petitioner says ‘the trio are the primary handlers and caregivers of the late king and were so during the time material to the incidence giving rise to this petition.”
She further stated that to her dismay and chagrin alongside many other chiefs in the kingdom in a meeting held in Warri immediately after the sad incident in which Chief Robinson Ariyo, the Egogo of Warri Kingdom, a practicing lawyer and human rights activist was present, it became very clear to all, that the Olu was exposed to situations and circumstances that were flagrantly in violation of the COVID-19 protocols, as His Royal Majesty Ogiame Ikonwoli was allowed to attend prolonged social gatherings and meet with visitors some of whom were found to be infected with the virus and some of these people have also died of related ailments.
The petitioner argued that with the conventions and traditions of the Itsekiri nation, it is mandatory that an emergency meeting of the Warri Council of Chiefs be called to internally and exclusively deliberate on the circumstances of the demise of the king including the cause of death.
The petitioner is said to have discovered that the late monarch’s top handlers have among themselves been jointly and severally exercising and performing the functions that are exclusive to the late Olu of Warri Kingdom. This role the persons appear to relish which is prohibited by the customs and traditions of the Itsekiri.
She stressed that this is her general belief as a high ranking chief in the Warri Palace alongside a majority of the Itsekiri people. The top persons, she maintained, habour the intention of usurping the functions of the late king as they have since positioned themselves to do so. Hence, they have continually concealed the facts concerning his passage.
She said this particular behavior of the suspected persons in this matter had sparked pockets of protest in the Warri kingdom in the past few weeks. This protest is now reaching a crescendo that might not only lead to the complete breakdown of law and order in Warri and environs but also result in the loss of lives and property, she warned.
Chief Ogbebor and her group, the Progressive Chiefs of Warri Kingdom, are therefore demanding that the persons whose names were mentioned in the petition, be immediately invited by the Nigerian Police for questioning to assist the process of investigation as they “cannot be bigger than the Police or the laws of our country, Nigeria.”
The group again demanded that the representative of Lily Hospitals, Deco Road, Warri, the medical facility to which the Olu was referred before his demise be invited to assist in the investigation.
Chief Lori-Ogbebor and her group stressed that the suspects be restrained from any further acts that might ignite the anger of the people and breach the peace and tranquility of the Itsekiri kingdom.
While this matter is still boiling, another set of chiefs maintained that some others with vested interest in the enthronement of a new king, rushed to consult an oracle in accordance with section 6 of the 1979 Edict, which stipulates as follows: “At this stage, Ifa Oracles are consulted.
The oracle must agree on a choice failing which the selection process is repeated until a candidate that is acceptable to the oracle is selected. The Oracle decision on this matter is final.”
In line with this process, the chiefs, who went to consult the oracle were said to have come up with the following findings: With regard to the eldest son of the immediate past Olu, Prince Oyowoli Emiko, the oracle they claimed, said, if crowned, might only reign for three years. This claim, some of the chiefs are saying, can’t be true.
It was the same oracle that was consulted which favoured Prince Tsola Emiko, hence, he was selected as the new Olu-designate. Some of the chiefs again alleged that it was because a particular Prince has plenty money to give to these kingmakers, that the oracle they consulted favoured him.
Another chief in Warri, who again pleaded not to be mentioned, expressed disappointment and disgust about “this very ugly situation and the way and manner things are going.”
He said: “If the new Olu of Warri designate likes, let him rule for a hundred years when he eventually gets crowned. But the question of him not qualified to be enthroned as the Olu of Warri, which most people believed was manipulated by a few Chiefs in his favour, will continue to hunt him for a very long time to come and will continue to hang on his neck like an albatross.
He explained further that some of these chiefs, who today break all the laid down rules to make way for Prince Tsola Emiko to ascend the throne of Olu of Warri, will at some point in his reign use this same point to blackmail him.
My only pain is that the revered throne of Olu of Warri kingdom is now being diminished with intrigues and recklessness; this must worry any sensible person. As a chief and a stakeholder in the Itsekiri nation, I’m in pains and sad.”
However, another concerned group of chiefs on Sunday, April 11, 2021, met somewhere in Warri, to map out strategies that will help bring all the warring factions to the negotiating table, where matters could possibly be discussed and resolved.
These chiefs, who claimed to be neutral in this matter, however, expressed disgust at the level to which things have been allowed to degenerate. An enlarged meeting of the Warri Council of Chiefs also met on Monday, 12th April, 2021 in the oil city, to deliberate on how to resolve the present crisis, which has polarized the Itsekiri people.
The meeting again deliberated on how to give some of the “offending” chiefs an easy passage and soft landing.
As at the time of going to press, the Governor of Delta, Dr. Ifeanyi Okowa, has not congratulated the Olu-designate, despite the intense pressure being mounted on him through a very influential former helmsman of the state
The chief in Warri explained that President Muhammadu Buhari, who has congratulated the Olu-designate, was not properly advised, saying, it is the same act of desperation which some chiefs exhibited, in an effort to give legitimacy to the wrong which some of them in Warri kingdom have committed, that was largely the reason that they reached out to the Chief of Staff to the President, Professor Ibrahim Gambari, who then directed the Senior Special Adviser to the President on Media, Chief Femi Adesina, to issue a congratulatory message to Prince Emiko.
He argued that the congratulatory message from the Presidency to the Olu-designate was hasty and not necessary at this point.
The presidency, he said, should have waited until the Olu-designate is enthroned before sending him a congratulatory message.
He added: “It is not every Olu-designate that becomes Olu in the final analysis. The grandfather of the new Olu-designate, as a matter of fact, did not assume the position of an ‘Olu-designate’, but he was eventually picked to assume the position of the Olu of Warri. Who says such a magic can’t happen this time around again?”